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A conversation with NACCU’s new Executive Director

Dawn Thomas takes the reigns and begins new era

July 1st marked the official changing of the guard for NACCU’s Executive Director position, with Lowell Adkins handing the reigns over to the newly appointed Dawn Thomas. But Thomas has already spent much of the summer hard at work on various NACCU activities and settling in to her new role.

With the changeover at hand, we at CR80News felt it was the perfect time to speak to Dawn about her experiences in higher education, her past association work and her thoughts on a future with NACCU. We caught up with Dawn just prior to her jetting off to the Canadian Campus Card Conference and in the midst of full transition.

The transition was facilitated by Adkins and provided a valuable primer. “I don’t know anybody that’s been lucky enough to be able transition the way I have,” says Thomas. “I feel fortunate that Lowell was willing and that I had the opportunity to learn through him.”

The move will mark the association’s first Executive Director change since 2004, but for Thomas it’s a role to which she brings established a body of work in higher education and association management. “The main goals for anybody on campus or within a higher education association – really the whole reason you’re there – is service to students and the campus,” she explains.

“This was the direction I was heading all along,” adds Thomas. “I feel very lucky because I understand the environment and the goals of a college campus having worked in that capacity, but I also understand the goals of a higher education association, so I saw the position as a good mesh of my skills.”

Experience is key

Thomas has been heavily involved in higher education throughout her career. For the past 17 years, she worked with the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). Thomas made the move to NACA as director of education and research, after working in student affairs for 11 years.

Thomas’ role evolved over her time spent with NACA, enabling her to interact with virtually every facet of the association’s management structure. “My time at NACA was incredibly valuable to me as I really established a strong foundation and experience in association operations and management,” she says.

Something that I would like to see is for NACCU  to provide more expert information on emerging technology and assist that with connections and collaborations that we develop.

Her time at NACA gave her perspective on the demands of the executive director position, as well as the value of having capable and driven colleagues to help shoulder the load. “I worked with closely one executive director at NACA for 16 years, and because of our longevity a strong trust was developed that enabled me the creative freedom, at times, to go out and solve problems,” says Thomas.

“Most people don’t stay in one association for as long as I did, but I think that the relationships that develop as a result of that longevity is part of what drives success,” she adds.

Piquing interests

As anyone joining the campus card industry for the first time can attest, there’s a learning curve. Thomas admits that things have been no different for her.

“There is a whole list of acronyms that I do not know yet,” Thomas says. (A note from this editor: she’s not the only one.) But she is diving headlong into as much industry information as possible, and posing questions to perhaps the best possible resource available, former Executive Director Lowell Adkins, NACCU members and its board. “I have a list of topics that I want to know more about, and have been pursuing them with extra fervor.”

What’s most interesting to Thomas, she says, is the rapid evolution of the card transaction system and the constant advancement of technology.

“When I started out in higher education, cards weren’t anything like they are today. They have evolved to full transaction management systems,” she says. “I think the evolution that’s happening on this front is intriguing. Technology has the ability to change and evolve so quickly in this space.”

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